Subject: AP: Some Australian Troops Leave East Timor

Also RT: Australia starts troop drawdown from East Timor

Some Australian Troops Leave East Timor

By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press Writer 8:23 PM PDT, August 2, 2006

CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia has begun withdrawing some of its peacekeeping troops and equipment from East Timor as security improves in the fledgling country, a military statement said Thursday.

A naval transport ship and three army Blackhawk helicopters returned from Dili in the last 10 days, the Australian Defense Force statement said.

An infantry company of about 100 soldiers, 23 armored personnel carriers with crews and some logistical and headquarters staff will also return home "over the next few weeks," the statement said.

"Although some personnel and equipment are returning to Australia, a robust Australian military force will remain," the statement said. That force would include 2,000 troops.

The drawdown will not be conducted on a set timeline; instead it will be based on monitoring of security conditions in East Timor.

Violence erupted in East Timor in March after then-Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri fired about 600 soldiers, sparking clashes between rival security forces in the capital that later spilled into gang warfare, looting and arson.

At least 30 people were killed and another 150,000 fled their homes in the worst unrest to hit the nation since it voted for independence from Indonesia seven years ago.

Australia deployed about 3,000 army, navy and air force personnel to the international peacekeeping operation which began in May, the statement said.

When Jose Ramos-Horta was appointed East Timor's prime minister on July 10, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced that his government would soon consider withdrawing troops because the country was expected to quickly stabilize.

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Australia starts troop drawdown from East Timor

CANBERRA, Aug. 3 (Reuters) - Australia has begun the gradual withdrawal of troops from East Timor as the troubled nation stabilises after violent clashes three months ago, Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said on Thursday.

Australia led an international force of more than 3,000 troops to restore peace in Asia's newest state after at least 20 people were killed in violent clashes and arson attacks.

"In the two months since they deployed, the streets of Dili have been transformed from chaos to relative calm with business beginning to return to normal," Nelson said in a statement.

"As the security situation continues to improve and the focus moves more to police operations, elements of the military force that were essential in the initial deployment will return to Australia," Nelson said in a statement.

Tiny East Timor plunged into political crisis nearly three months ago when former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri dismissed around 600 troops after they protested against discrimination.

East Timor has asked the United Nations to deploy more than 800 police to help with long-term security after the crisis.

Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal all sent troops and police to help stabilise East Timor. At the height of the operations, Australia had about 3,000 defence personnel deployed, including navy ships and army helicopters.

Over the past two weeks, Australia has withdrawn a troop supply ship from East Timor, as well as three army Blackhawk helicopters.

Nelson said about 23 armoured personnel carries, infantry troops and logistics staff will also return to Australia in the coming weeks. The department said that would leave about 2,000 soldiers in East Timor.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has said he hopes U.N.-led police and troops can join the Australian-led forces in six months and eventually take over the peacekeeping operations.


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